Star Fox: Command
| Star Fox: Command

There are notable pioneers in the field of spacefaring animals: Laika the dog; Able and Baker the monkeys; Ham the chimpanzee.

All of these mammals made giant leaps into space on mankind's behalf. Some of them even made it back down. But they didn't actually fly the craft they traveled in, and importantly, those spaceships weren't equipped with deadly lasers and wide-area bombs.

Personally, I question the wisdom of sending critters without opposable thumbs into space to battle slavering alien foes. But Nintendo has other ideas.

To be fair though, it's been doing this with varying degrees of success for over a decade. Star Fox: Command is the latest in a long series of 3D space shooters with Fox McCloud and his pals: Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad. But while their early adventures, built around a frantic mix of rail driven and free-ranging combat, are rightly regarded as classics, recent episodes have looked a little worn around the edges. Foxed, you might say, if you were the kind of reviewer who goes for the easy pun.

So it's initially pleasing to see that unpopular additions such as Star Fox: Assault's clunky on-foot missions have been stripped away for this, the series' first DS outing.

However, in a controversial move, gamemaker Q-Games has decided to add an entirely new aspect – indeed, genre – to Star Fox: Command: turn-based strategy.

Each mission begins on a tactics map representing a planet's surface or open space, with the good guys' mobile headquarters, the Great Fox, sitting duck-like in one corner. While the fighters it ferries are armoured and mobile, the Great Fox stays put and is vulnerable to even a single attack from the formations of enemy fighters and missiles that litter the map. Also present are icons representing enemy motherships, the Star Fox fighters and various power-ups.

You use your stylus to plot flight paths for the furries, and to select targets for the few missiles on board the (not so) Great Fox. When all the moves are made, the turn ends and you get directly involved, taking to the skies in from one to four available battles. With all the battles won, it's back to the tactics map, and so on until every threat on the map has been destroyed and that mission is completed.

The flying levels themselves are fast-paced and exciting. In a surprisingly successful move, all functions except the laser are controlled by the stylus, and once mastered, the Arwing fighter handles beautifully. Even the 3D graphics showcase the DS' capabilities.

Most of these battles are free-ranging, with players having to destroy a number of key targets from a variety of enemy craft within a given time. Some levels require the destruction of a mother ship, achieved by shooting while pulling a barrel roll, a useful manoeuvre that also deflects enemy fire. Each fighter also has at least one bomb, which can be used to target any portion of the level map, depicted on the radar/control display on the DS's touchscreen.

Power-ups include fuel cells, which provide much-needed extra time, additional bombs, and supply rings that replenish your shields – barrel rolls serve to draw these to your ship.

The only other type of level, Pursuit, sees you chasing a missile by following a series of guide beacons. This can be a fraught task, with failure sometimes meaning the loss of both the Great Fox and a great deal of unsaved progress.

The one-player game ends after only a handful of missions, but alternate routes and endings add to its replay value.

Another key feature that boosts the game's lifespan is support for Nintendo's global Wi-Fi Connection multiplayer service. Six players are supported with the adhoc local game-sharing feature (only one copy of the game required), while Wi-Fi Connection games can have up to four. It's a fun experience for a while but pretty basic. Everyone flies the same Arwing ship, and the winner is usually the person who gains the most power-ups, rather than the action being particularly skill-based.

Still, overall it's difficult to dislike Star Fox: Command – it looks fantastic, and the flying levels are engaging and zippy, if lacking in variety.

The strategy element is way too simple though. With even hidden perils being easily memorised, it can quickly become something of a repetitive chore. Fox and his pals should stick to what they're good at – flying spacecraft – and leave the tactics to Advance Wars commanders.

Star Fox: Command

Star Fox: Command's strategic elements bog down its exciting flying levels, but it looks great, and multiplayer is thankfully free of turn-based antics